FIFA Wants A World Cup Every Two Years, But That Could Be Too Much Of A Good Thing

FIFA Wants A World Cup Every Two Years, But That Could Be Too Much Of A Good Thing

Soccer federations at the FIFA Congress on Friday voted heavily in favor of looking into the possibility of holding the World Cup every two years.

The federations backed the proposal made by Saudi Arabia, which calls for a feasibility study into holding both the men’s and women’s world cups every two years, with 166 federations voting for it and just 22 federations voting against.

But while the idea has the backing of national soccer federations, fans appear to be split over the decision, with many saying the long wait between each World Cup is what makes it special.

Almost all soccer fans look forward to the World Cup, but its rarity is what makes it such a spectacle. Coming every four years, it can come to define periods of people’s lives. Most England fans who are old enough, for example, can still recall how they watched England’s loss to Brazil in 2002, almost two decades ago. They would find it much harder to remember exact events from the Premier League that season. If Christmas or Thanksgiving came every day, people would be sick to death of turkey. Likewise, a World Cup every two years could make the whole thing that little bit less exciting.

So why are so many federations in support of it?

Money is one reason. There are three main forces in world soccer at the moment: FIFA, UEFA, and a small group of superclubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United. Each wants a larger slice of the pie, but the pie is finite, there are only so many top players, and there are only so many times they can physically play each year. Most of the money generated by these top players is concentrated in the top clubs and UEFA, through the Champions League.

The rest of the world is on the outside looking in. They get money from FIFA, and subsequently are likely to vote for ideas that bring FIFA more money. The World Cup is currently FIFA’s main revenue source. FIFA’s $4.6 billion in revenues in 2018 made up for the losses in the three non-World Cup years preceding it. This is why Gianni Infantino is so keen on ideas like a larger Club World Cup, which would also increase FIFA’s revenue. He said on Friday that FIFA cannot ignore how the current concentration of money and player talent “does not serve the global development or interests of the game.”

In theory, if FIFA brings in more money, this would be shared out between members, raising the level of the global game. However, doubling the number of world cups won’t automatically double the revenue (which is also so high because the World Cup is so rare), and given the many scandals that national federations around the world have seen in recent years, there is not much of a guarantee that all the extra money would go directly into developing the game around the world.

Another reason though is that 188 federations voted on the proposal, but only 79 nations (including ones that no longer exist) have ever qualified for the World Cup. Only 58 teams have been there more than once. Of the two most populous nations in the world, India have never been to a World Cup, and in China’s solitary World Cup appearance, they failed to score a single goal.

Part of the interest in the World Cup is that even reaching the finals is an achievement, and every year one or two big nations miss out.

But it’s also easy to forget that while every fan hopes to watch their country at the World Cup, many have never seen their country play on international soccer’s biggest stage. The World Cup is great to watch, but it’s not quite as great when your country’s players are also watching it on TV.

With the World Cup set to grow to 48 teams in 2026, more nations see qualification as a possibility, and having a tournament every two years doubles their chances of reaching what had previously seemed like an impossible dream.

At the moment, FIFA are only conducting a feasibility study, so any changes are still a long way off. The biggest question would be how to fit all of the proposed tournaments into the schedule without them cannibalizing each other.

FIFA presumably still wants its enlarged Club World Cup, and continental confederations are hardly going to give up their own tournaments like the Copa America or European Championships, meaning some summers would have two tournaments side by side.

The proposal to double the number of women’s world cups seems like a nice idea, but in reality, women’s soccer will likely lose out the most in any new schedule as currently it has one summer more-or-less all to itself, whereas any extra tournaments would see women’s tournaments forced to share airtime with men’s tournaments.

One upside to holding more big tournaments though might be a reduction in international friendlies and long qualifying stages. With some teams still having seven games to play in UEFA’s qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, teams like England and France already seem to have one foot in the finals, and some qualification matches can feel like glorified friendlies. Creating a fair, inclusive and exciting qualification system is easy said than done, but the current system certainly could be made more efficient.

Most fans would agree with Infantino’s analysis that fans want “less meaningless games”, but at the same time FIFA has to be careful to ensure the World Cup itself doesn’t lose its meaning.

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